Media Relations: Handling Bad News

By Doug Luciani Chief Associate, PRofit from PR - Public Relations & Marketing | October 28, 2008

Good news is great, but handle a bad news story poorly and the negative publicity can be severe.

A successful media relations campaign is valuable to any business, including hotels and resorts. Positive exposure of a property can generate reservations, increase profits, and give a business a competitive edge. However, the press isn't always going to be good. Bad news is a reality and negative publicity can erase any positive exposure.

Hotels are extremely susceptible to negative news. Food poison stories and stories about crime against guests often make the headlines. Some stories are completely out of the control of a hotel, such as hurricanes, floods or wild fires. Other stories are investigative reports that media outlets may do to expose flaws like unsanitary practices or unsafe furniture, such as defective cribs. It doesn't matter if they actually find something, perception can often become reality.

It is important to be ready to handle the crisis communications surrounding these types of stories. If handled poorly, a negative story can be devastating to a hotel's reputation and bottom line. An effective response can help minimize this, and in some instances, the response is so well received by the public the business actually grows stronger. Johnson & Johnson is a textbook case of this following the Tylenol poisonings in 1982. Because they put public safety ahead of profits, the media and consumers gave the company high praise.

Many think they can control the media or that reporters in their local market are their friend. That may be true, until a crisis erupts. A key part of any effective crisis communications plan is to have an appropriate spokesperson prepared to handle a media who will dig, probe and try to knock you off your key message.

It is important to be open and honest in all communications. It is also important to be in control of your message. Only approved staff members should speak to the media and this is especially true in a crisis situation. In addition, hotels should have a crisis communications plan. This plan should be in writing, updated regularly, and distributed to the appropriate individuals for effective execution.

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